The day before Tel Aviv Pride I was so tempted to go. Dreams of breaking my drinking and partying fast one month early filled my mind. I had a place to stay and had even met three English girls in Haifa who were going. But, alas, the moral implications of partaking in a celebration for gay rights in a country that denies basic human rights to 4 million Palestinians stopped me from hopping on the train and I instead set out on the five hour return to Nablus.
There are many Israeli feminist organisations that recognise the hypocrisy of their country’s politics. Possibly the most famous is Women in Black. It began in 1988, after the outbreak of the first Intifada, and involved vigils across the country in which women would stand outside their homes in black from 1-2pm every Friday, holding ‘Stop the Occupation’ signs. It is still going and has spread abroad but has lost its initial impact, reporting with a mixed sense of achievement and regret that they are now shouted at for being ‘lefties’ as opposed to ‘whores who sleep with Arafat’.
From the Israeli feminist peace movement was born Black Laundry, a queer anti-occupation group that gained notoriety in 2002 for turning Tel Aviv Pride into a protest against the Occupation, as a group of 200 walked at the head of the march, dressed in black and pink, carrying ‘No Pride in Occupation’ slogans.
It continues to stage attention-grabbing demonstrations around the country, such as marching blindfolded in Tel Aviv to recreate an image of the thousands of political prisoners who were being marched in such a fashion to prisons in the West Bank. Yet the thing I like most about this organisation is its inclusivity born from the recognition that all struggles for rights – whether they concern gender, sexuality, the environment, poverty, capitalism – are linked, and stand a better chance beating a chauvinist world by working together.
But, despite these efforts, the overall feeling I get went venturing ‘inside’ is that the West Bank and Gaza are forgotten lands. The Zionists have crazy arguments for the occupation that would leave you thinking all Palestinians are terrorists who would love to bomb Israel given half a chance. Somewhat bizarre given that thousands of Palestinians manage to get into Israel illegally but choose to simply seek work, of which there is no longer very much in the West Bank thanks to a depleted economy. I suspect that such illogical mind-sets are the result of a combination of religious extremism, clever propaganda and the myths that naturally grow over time about a community that people never meet personally until donning a military uniform.
Then there are those who try to shield themselves from the implications of the occupation by ‘not discussing politics’ or sighing that ‘yes, it’s very complicated’ or ‘it’s hard for people there’. And this we are all guilty of. Every time we neglect to give money to that person on the street because ‘we know they just spend it on booze and it is not a long-term solution’, or we switch channels to avoid more depressing news scenes (these being the edited version), or conveniently pick up food at the supermarket in a way that keeps the many stickers acting as a guide to its ‘ethicalness’ out of sight.
I realise that living up the road from the illegal occupation and abuse of a country is on a different level to neglecting to buy organic fruit but I can also understand the sense of helplessness that some from a generation who were born in Israel must feel when confronted by an extremely right-wing government and generally conservative society.
The complication for Palestinians living in Israel is even worse. Due to an Israeli campaign to ‘Israelize’ Palestinian communities, forcing them to identify as Arab-Israelis, and the lack of a Palestinian centre in Israel (apart from perhaps Nazareth and, to a lesser extent, Jaffa), there now exists a generation of Palestinians (or Arab-Israelis) who can’t read a word of Arabic, identify as Israeli and even go onto join the Israeli police or army.
Yet there are still tight-knit Arab communities within the cities and in villages, and, though many Arabs and Jews live and work alongside each other in harmony, many Arabs are still routinely discriminated against in the courts, the work place and on the street.
Which brings me back to gay pride, since it is not only that the Israeli government and supporters of Israel, have come to use the country’s gay rights to cover up its human rights abuses (a practice coined ‘pinkwashing’) and to portray Palestinians as ‘backwards’, but that the Israeli queer community doesn’t even accept all of its members. One of the main reasons for the founding of the two Palestinian LGBT rights groups was to create a community in which Palestinian LGBTs could be all of their identities, as their experience was often that acceptance by the Israeli LGBTs came at the cost of leaving their Palestinian identity at the door.
Israel also likes to present itself as a safe haven for gay Palestinians, yet requests for asylum take years and are rarely successful. Furthermore, one Palestinian gay organisation reported that they don’t help file requests for Israeli asylum because the individual is placed in greater danger by the possibility that Israeli intelligence will use their sexual identity to blackmail them into spying on their behalf. Instead, they help people find asylum in countries such as Sweden.
Yet there are those who, having fled to Israel illegally, are currently trapped – unable to go home for fear of their lives and unable to live freely in Israel because, were the Israeli authorities to catch them, they would face certain extradition. Prostitution therefore ends up being such individuals’ predicament.
Then there are the indirect effects of the occupation on gay rights in Palestine. A natural reaction of a country to being attacked is to strengthen its sense of national identity and with this comes the return of traditions. This has been a big obstacle for the Palestinian feminist movement who have found that restrictions on women have been increased, with society becoming tighter and thus ‘the eyes of society’ forever being upon you, judging you.
In terms of gay rights, such nationalism has caused homosexuality to be rejected as something from Israel and the West, with which Palestinians don’t want to identify.
And so that is why, in the end, I chose to not seek freedom and certain alcohol-induced happiness in Tel Aviv. Instead, I chose to celebrate another lazy Muslim Friday, of which I have become rather fond, and to ponder about the complexities of life. And to cheer myself up, I will just have to set my sights on Brighton’s somewhat chillier affair. As far as I am aware, Brighton council has not been responsible for any occupations recently and I shall conveniently angle the sticker reading ‘Made in the not-so-innocent UK’ out of my line of vision.